Of Plumbing and Poetry
Sitting Down With… Sandy Macrae, Chief Executive Officer, Sangamo Therapeutics, USA
James Strachan | | Interview
You started out in medicine, but what happened next?
I studied medicine and pharmacology at the University of Glasgow. During my time there, I did an internship at a pharma company, which completely changed my perspective of the industry. I was impressed by the professionalism and the way science was focused toward a clear goal. I then studied for a PhD at the University of Cambridge and a postdoc at Duke University Medical Center, and was offered a grant from the Wellcome Trust to set up my lab and my first PhD student. But I realized that I would never be able to compete as a full-time physician only working in the lab a couple of times a week. So I looked to industry and took a job at SmithKline Beecham (which of course became GSK). This move provided me with incredibly powerful training in how to carry out quality scientific and clinical research. I spent the next 19 years in industry, before being offered the chance to head up Sangamo in 2016.
Do you think your background in medicine and academia prepared you well for the job of leading a cell and gene therapy company?
It is rather unusual for a physician/scientist to lead a cell and gene therapy company, but I think it does help to coordinate the technology and development arms – especially important for advanced medicine. No matter the excitement around your technology, you must understand how to recruit patients with the specific disease you’re trying to treat, inclusion/exclusion criteria, and ultimately how to meet your endpoints and validate your technology. But nobody knows it all. Leaders with my background will lean on a good chief business officer, with a real understanding of how to make our therapies available to patients – how to price them and how they’ll fit into the various healthcare systems. Similarly, someone from a business background would require a strong head of R&D or chief medical officer. A good balance of skills and perspectives is a must.
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